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Hooked `em: Badgers drop No. 1 Texas on way to NCAA title match

Game Photo
Wisconsin 12 Wisconsin 3, 1 Texas 1
2013 NCAA Tournament - National Semifinal
KeyArena • Seattle, Wash. • Attendance: 14,975
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1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th
25 25 26 25 --
19 18 28 23 --
 Stats Leaders
Chapman - 17 Kills Eckerman - 17
Carlini - 50 Assists Allison - 33
Thompson - .222 Hit % McCage - .385
Hickey - 21 Digs Palmer - 16
Nelson - 6 Blocks Bell - 10
Chapman - 3  Aces Bell/Neal - 1
 Stats Comparison
 Kills 60 46
 Hitting Pct. .131 .156
 Assists 57 43
 Service Aces 7 2
 Digs 72 64
 Total Blocks 10 19
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Dec. 19, 2013

SEATTLE -- From injuries to top-ranked opponents, the Wisconsin volleyball team has overcome remarkable odds in its most successful season in recent program history.

For the first time since 2000, the 12th-seeded Badgers advanced to the NCAA championship match with a 3-1 win over No. 1-ranked and top-seeded Texas at KeyArena on Thursday night.

The 25-19, 25-18, 26-28, 25-23 victory over the Longhorns is the team's first win over a No. 1-ranked opponent since Oct. 31, 1997 and brings Wisconsin to 28-9 overall.

The Badgers will take on the 2nd-seed Penn State on Sat., Dec. 21 at 8:30 p.m. C.T. at KeyArena. Penn State swept 3rd-seeded Washington (25-14, 25-13, 25-16) in the other national semifinal match.

As the No. 12 seed, the Cardinal and White is the lowest seed ever to advance to the national championship. It was UW's 10th win over a top-20 team this season.

 Fast Facts
• UW advances to national title game for first time since 2000
• Badgers earn first win against No. 1 team since 1997
• UW holds Texas to lowest attack percentage of season

"You know, we believed that we could win this match," UW head coach Kelly Sheffield said. "And I think that's a big part of anytime you go into anything. This has been a team that no matter who we played we believed, the players have believed that there's a way to win."

The Badgers dominated the first two sets, using extended runs to pull away in both. A 7-0 run early in the first, behind the serve of Annemarie Hickey, gave UW an 8-3 lead. Wisconsin maintained a comfortable cushion until Texas closed the gap to 20-19. The Badgers put the set away with a 5-0 run to put the Longhorns on their heels.

With the second set tied 3-3, UW went on a commanding 9-1 run to gain a 12-4 advantage over the Longhorns and maintained a large lead thereafter, cruising to a 25-18 win. Trailing by two sets, the defending national champs came out in the third set looking to get back on track.

The Longhorns gained 5-2 advantage early on but the Badgers would not give in. The set featured 13 ties and five lead changes. After falling behind by three points, Wisconsin tied it at 17-17. A net violation and attack error helped push Texas ahead, 20-17, but the Badgers once again tied it at 20-20 with a 3-0 run. A net violation by Wisconsin made it set point for the Longhorns at 24-22. But Dominique Thompson put down a Texas overpass to tie it up at 24-24, and the Badgers took a late lead at 25-24. UW could not close out the match and the Longhorns were finally able to convert on their fourth set point, winning set three 28-26.

The fourth set started exactly like the third, with Texas jumping out to a 5-2 lead. After winning a couple long rallies, Wisconsin pulled within 9-8. The Longhorns got some separation, leading 12-9, but a 5-2 run by the Badgers tied the score at 14-14. Texas countered with a 5-2 run of its own, gaining a 19-16 advantage, but Wisconsin once again tied the score, 21-21, on a block by Courtney Thomas and Haleigh Nelson. The Badgers finally pulled ahead, 23-22, off another block by Thomas and Thompson. Texas tied the score at 23-23, but two straight kills by Deme Morales made it 25-23, giving Wisconsin the set and the match and sending them to the national championship.

While Wisconsin has dominated offensively in its past four NCAA tournament matches, defense was the name of the game. The Badgers held the Longhorns to its lowest attack percentage of the entire season, as Texas hit just .156 (46 kills - 23 errors - 147 attempts). Wisconsin hit just .131 (60-37-176) in comparison, but the Longhorns, who lost for just the third time all season (27-3) were plagued by errors throughout.

Much like the team's Dec. 7 tournament match against California, service precision was a key component of Wisconsin's win. The team tied its season-low, recording just three service errors on the match, while Texas tallied nine errors at the service line. The Badgers not only served more consistently than the Longhorns, but they also recorded seven service aces to just two from UT.

"We had to serve with confidence," Sheffield said. "We had to execute with fearlessness behind the serving line. We believed if we did that, they were going to get we'd have them out of system a lot. If they're out of system, I knew we've got the best back court in the country and we'd be able to dig some balls."

Offensively, three juniors tallied double-figures kills. Ellen Chapman put up 17, followed by Morales (14) and Thompson (12). Thomas added nine kills to round out Wisconsin's attack.

Second-team All-American selection Lauren Carlini headed the Badgers' charge on offense, putting up 50 of the team's 57 assists.

"She's really well skilled," Sheffield said. "When you've got confidence in big moments and you're skilled, you're going to do some special things. And tonight she did some special things."

Defensively, Wisconsin out-dug Texas 72-64. Annemarie Hickey continued to play with senior leadership, grabbing match-high honors with 21 digs. Hickey's 21 saves gave the senior her sixth 20-plus match of the season. Morales followed with 14 digs for her 19th double-double on the season, and Carlini put up 12 digs for her team-leading 22nd double-double.

Wisconsin overcame a dominant Texas net defense, as the Longhorns out-blocked the Badgers 19-10. Freshman Nelson, Thomas and Thompson led the team with five blocks apiece. Junior Khat Bell led Texas at the net, putting up a match-high 10 blocks. Senior setter Allison Hannah and sophomore middle blocker Molly McCage also recorded seven blocks each.

Texas was led by junior Haley Eckerman, who tied Chapman for match-high honors with 17 kills. Senior Sara Palmer led UT on defense with 16 digs. Eckerman, a 6-3 outside hitter, contributed 14 saves for the Longhorns, followed by Amy Neal and Allison, who tallied 11 digs apiece.

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